Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Double Jeopardy: Child and School Characteristics That Predict Aggressive-Disruptive Behavior in First Grade

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Double Jeopardy: Child and School Characteristics That Predict Aggressive-Disruptive Behavior in First Grade

Article excerpt

Abstract. High rates of aggressive-disruptive behavior exhibited by children during their initial years of elementary school increase their risk for significant behavioral adjustment problems with teachers and peers. The purpose of the present study was to examine the unique and combined contributions of child vulnerabilities and school context to the development of aggressive-disruptive student behavior during first grade. Parent ratings and child interviews assessed three child characteristics associated with risk for the development of aggressive behavior problems in elementary school (aggressive-disruptive behaviors at home, attention problems, and social cognitions) in a sample of 755 first-grade children in four demographically diverse American communities. Two school characteristics associated with student aggressive-disruptive behavior problems (low-quality classroom context, school poverty levels) were also assessed. Linear and multilevel analyses showed that both child and school characteristics made independent and cumulative contributions to the development of student aggressive -disruptive behavior at school. Although rates of student aggressive -disruptive behavior varied by gender and race, the predictive model generalized across all groups of children in the study.

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Children who exhibit high rates of aggressive-disruptive behavior during their initial years of elementary school are at increased risk for a range of personal and social difficulties and more enduring patterns of aggression (Broidy et al., 2003; Kim-Cohen et al., 2005). For instance, research has shown that approximately 65% of children who enter elementary school exhibiting elevated levels of aggression experience significant behavioral difficulties and associated educational problems in school 2 years later (Kim-Cohen et al., 2005). In addition, students who show high rates of disruptive and aggressive behaviors during the first years of school are also more likely than well-behaved students to repeat a grade early in elementary school (Beebe-Frankenberger, Bocian, MacMillan, & Gresham, 2004), require special education services (Wagner, Kutash, Duchnowski, Epstein, & Sumi, 2005), and exhibit serious conduct problems in later adolescence (Broidy et al., 2003). Given these potential outcomes, it is important to understand etiological factors related to the early development of student aggression and disruptiveness. The current study examines the effects of both child vulnerabilities and school variables on students' display of aggressive-disruptive behavior during first grade.

Developmental models of "early-starting" conduct problems at school emphasize the key role that family factors play in the early development of child aggression, including harsh and ineffective parental discipline, family conflict, and lack of parental involvement (Dishion & Patterson, 2006; Patterson, 2002). According to Patterson (2002), these factors can lead to the initial emergence of aggressive-disruptive behavior problems for children in their homes, which then generalize to the school setting during their early years. When these behavior problems emerge in the school setting, they may affect social transactions with teachers and peers that, in turn, lead to further escalations in children's levels of aggression and classroom disruption.

Although aggressive-disruptive behavior problems at home can increase risk for similar problems emerging at school during the early grade levels, research suggests that the behavior problems parents observe are not entirely consistent with what teachers report (Achenbach, McConaughy, & Howell, 1987). This suggests that, beyond children's aggressive behavior at home, there are additional child and school factors that may fuel their risk for evidencing aggressive-disruptive behaviors in the school setting. More research is needed to ascertain individual and school contextual factors that, in addition to child behavior problems at home, may contribute to the early emergence and escalation of aggressive-disruptive student behavior at school. …

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